October 24, 2011

4 Days in Utah's Southern National Parks

This summer we spent four days visiting three National Parks in Central Utah: Arches, Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon. 1,000 well-worth-it miles. Yes, it was really quick! And you could easily spent more than a week seeing and exploring this area. We work 9-5 but love to travel, so we take quick trips like this and make the very most out of them. I have to say this trip felt a lot longer and I highly recommend following our itinerary below... But first, a little eye candy:

Day 1: Salt Lake City to Moab

Fly into Salt Lake City airport as early in the day as you can. Rent a car. Get a late breakfast. You could go to Over the Counter, but I HIGHLY recommend Bruges Waffles & Frites, easily the best belgian waffles I've ever had! Carmelized crispy on the outside and gooey inside... yum.

From Salt Lake City drive south to Highway 6, then to Price, where you can make a quick stop at the kitchy, cute and informative Dinosaur Museum. You'll want to get snacks or lunch there but there aren't any notable options.

Then head towards Moab (another two hours), and go into Arches National Park! You'll love the afternoon light. In the park, after stopping at the Visitor's Center head to the "Wall Street" viewpoint, then hike up to the "Double Arch". The scenery is bright orange and the formations are stunning.

After a long day of travel and scenery, head just ten minutes down the road to the town of Moab. Moab is a tourist trap, but it is well-located and there is some charm. If you have time, Moab is a good place to stay for up to a week, visiting the parks, trekking, rafting the Colorado River, ballooning. There is a LOT to do around here. I discovered what I think is the best spot to stay in town with four cottages called 3 Dogs & a Moose.

Day 2: Moab to Torrey

Rise early and head back to Arches to climb Delicate Arch! This hike takes about an hour and is moderately strenuous, with a steep uphill section and a few cliffs. We saw kids and elderly people on the trail handling it no problem. You'll be rewarded by spectacular views and getting up close and personal with the most beautiful arch in the park.

When you finish the hike, you should drive around to a few more viewpoints, like Fiery Furnace (or do this hike if you have an extra day- reservations required). Next leave the park and drive north for one hour to the town of Green River, for a greasy lunch at Ray's Tavern.

From Green River, begin the scenic drive south to Capitol Reef National Park, a lesser-touristed and gorgeous gem of a park, when the fruit orchards are in season. Capitol Reef has scenic formations, historical homes and petroglyphs. We enjoyed a freshly made cherry pie and an offroad drive then hike into a canyon.

Now head to your hotel in nearby Torrey, Utah. We chose the Torrey Schoolhouse B&B. It's such a charming town to stay in. There's a little market, bookstore, and one of the best restaurants in Utah to have dinner: Cafe Diablo.

Day 3: Torrey to Bryce Canyon

Head out early in the morning. Today you'll drive Scenic Byway 12 southwest to Bryce Canyon. This is a spectacular, sometimes hair-raising drive with gorgeous scenery, good food, and a sense of being lost in pioneer country.

Stop at delicious and organic Hell's Backbone Grille in Boulder, Utah for breakfast. The week before our trip, I also pre-ordered a picnic lunch to pick up there and take with us on the road.

After breakfast/brunch. Stop at the Anasazi museum. The staff is informative and the gift shop has great handcrafted jewelry. Next, take a detour and drive the Burr Trail. It will take a couple of hours to navigate this rough single lane road into the back country then return to Boulder. You can have your picnic lunch along the way.

Back in Boulder, head south on Byway 12 for a couple of hours. Along the way you'll drive the terrifying sheer-cliff-on-both-sides "Hogback", after which you can unwind at the hippy Kiva Koffeehouse. Also along the way is the historic town of Escalante, which is fun to kick around for a bit.

When you arrive to Bryce Canyon City, head straight into the park and to the Visitor's Center. At the Visitors Center, get a map and have a ranger mark the hike you'll do tomorrow morning, the Navajo Trail.  On your way out of the park, stop at Fairyland Point to get your first glimpse of Bryce formations. Wow.

We stayed at the most grown-up option around, the Best Western Bryce Canyon Grand. For dinner, we drove five minutes west to Bryce Canyon Pines, a diner famous for their pie.

Day 4: Bryce Canyon to Salt Lake City

Get up early, head into the park and to the beginning of the Navajo Trail head. This moderately strenuous two-hour hike takes you down into the valley and the heart of the formations, then back up the very steep "Wall Street" section. Take your time, take photos, it's a special experience.

After the hike, we headed back to the hotel for some jacuzzi time. Late morning is the perfect time of day- we had the place to ourselves because everyone else was out sightseeing! Then we packed up and drove back into the park for lunch at the historic Bryce Canyon Lodge followed by a drive to the very end of the park (Rainbow Point) and back, stopping at all the viewpoints.

The last stop is the Bryce Point viewpoint. This astounding view looks directly upon the most remarkable group of formations: "Bryce Amphitheater". You started your day hiking down into it and ending it with this view is perfection.

Now it's time for the scenic four hour drive back to an evening flight from Salt Lake City to reflect on your wanderings. It is possible to have a meaningful trip to Utah in just four days! I can't wait to go back to see Zion, Park City and more of this beautiful state.

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